08/27/2003 12:00AM

Futurity trainer Jones has future of his own


At age 37, trainer Paul Jones is Quarter Horse racing's most celebrated trainer. Now he is staring at the sport's ultimate test - the Grade 1, $2 million All American Futurity on Monday at Ruidoso Downs.

Only 10 juveniles from the 176 that entered the 18 trials on Aug. 14 qualified to run in Monday's finals for the $1 million first-place prize. Three are trained by Jones.

Jones has dominated the trainer standings at Los Alamitos. The defending national champion trainer, Jones has been the leading trainer at Los Alamitos for each of the past five years. Last year, he won 20 stakes - all at Los Alamitos - including the Grade 1, $500,000 Champion of Champions with co-world champion Whosleavingwho.

On closing weekend of the 2002 Los Alamitos meet, Jones broke his own record for wins in a single Los Alamitos season when Agouti won the Grade 1 Southern California Derby. He set the record with 170 wins at Los Alamitos.

Ruidoso Downs owner R.D. Hubbard urged Jones to set up a barn at that track this summer, and Jones signed on, adding some Hubbard-owned 2-year-olds to his Ruidoso string.

The plan worked, and Jones has had plenty of success at Ruidoso Downs.

He won the Grade 1, $600,000 Rainbow Futurity with Planet Holland, who was one of Jones's three qualifiers for the 440-yard All American Futurity, Quarter Horse racing's richest race. The other Jones qualifiers are Latest Version and Rubys JP.

Fastest qualifier Latest Version, co-owned by Hubbard, is a doubtful starter for the All American Futurity because of shin problems, according to Jones. Jones said he will make a final decision about the horse's All American status after he arrives at Ruidoso.

"In his [All American] trial he finally showed what he can do," Jones said of Latest Version's victory in 21.272 seconds for the 440 yards. "But we are just day to day, dealing with his problems."

Rubys JP, Jones said, is a "hard-trying little horse who liked the extra distance" of the 440-yard All American trials. A son of Mr Jess Perry, Rubys JP won his trial in 21.375 seconds, for his third win in six lifetime starts.

The most accomplished member of the Jones threesome is Planet Holland, who set a Ruidoso Downs track record for 400 yards (19.032 seconds) in his Rainbow Futurity trial.

Owned by Hubbard, Johnny T.L. Jones, and Butch Holmes, Planet Holland finished a neck behind Dashin Kirk in their All American trial and both horses qualified for the finals.

"He had trouble in his trial," Jones said. "He got bumped. If he runs straight and clean he's got a good shot. He came out of the trial super."

Jones is on pace for another record-setting year. His horses have earned $2.3 million and he could easily pass the $2.6 million mark - his total last year - by the time the sun sets on Labor Day. If he runs one-two in the All American he will break the record for winnings in a year- $3,531,572 - set by hall of fame trainer Blane Schvaneveldt in 1984.

Is Jones ready to follow D. Wayne Lukas and Bob Baffert from Orange County to Los Angeles County and start training Thoroughbreds? He has given the question serious thought, and has concluded that he wants to continue training exclusively Quarter Horses

"If I jump to Thoroughbreds, then I'm the little guy in the big pond," he said. "I'm happy. I have a lot of good owners now and I don't want to leave them high and dry."

Jones could hit the $4 million mark this year, an amount that would be good enough to place him among the top 20 Thoroughbred trainers. That total would have ranked him as the 18th leading Thoroughbred trainer in 2002.

And come Monday, Jones might well hear the accolades that Lukas and Baffert for all their Quarter Horse successes never heard, but always wanted to hear - "Congratulations for an All American win!"

"It would be awesome, the greatest win ever," Jones said. "It would be one that I couldn't top."